Prime Minister’s Questions bring out the worst in MPs. The leaders mock each other as their backbenchers jeer. They treat PMQs as a pre-election campaign, to inform voters of their opponent’s failures.
Mr Miliband says the Government’s economic strategy has failed while the PM says the Opposition has no plan that does not involve spending more and increasing the deficit. Whatever the truth of these jibes, recovery is taking longer than the Government promised and too many people, especially youngsters and graduates, are unemployed.
MPs overlook that most voters do not watch PMQs and have little respect for politicians, especially when they behave as they do every Wednesday. Polls reveal that 83% voting in the Eastleigh by-election said they were “unhappy with the party I usually support nationally” and 75% were unhappy with all the main parties at the moment”[i]. This suggests a low turnout in 2015. The most recent national poll puts Labour on 43%, Conservatives on 29%, UKIP on 12% and Lib Dems on 11%[ii].
Much can change in the next two years but these figures carry strong messages to the Coalition partners. Conservative backbenchers are plotting to replace Mr Cameron with a ‘real Conservative’. They fail to recognise that voters do not support divided parties and whilst a more right wing leader might win back disaffected Tory voters, that did not win them the election in 2010. The electoral system is biased in favour of Labour, the only party that can win with 40% of the vote.
Labour may top the polls but is still not trusted on the economy. 35% still hold them responsible for our economic problems. They propose to reintroduce the 10p income tax rate but increasing the tax threshold is simpler and more progressive, taking more people out of the tax altogether.
The rise of UKIP is attributed to widespread opposition to UK membership of the EU and to high levels of immigration. However, a referendum on EU membership is promised for 2017 and immigration is down a third since 2010. If the other parties persuade voters that quitting the EU would damage the economy and immigration continues to fall, support for UKIP could crumble and help the Conservatives and Lib Dems.
However, another Coalition Government is still a possible outcome in 2015 and we have to learn to live with the compromises that might involve. Politicians have to genuinely listen to the people they are elected to serve and ideology has to take a back seat as the parties contest for the middle ground. We voters have a part to play. We enjoyed the prosperity whilst Government borrowed; creating the deficit that has now to be repaid. We have to ask the critical questions before the damage is done. That means a different type of politics in which we all accept some responsibility rather than opting out and blaming the politicians for everything that goes wrong.
[i] Eastleigh Post – Election Poll by Lord Ashcroft 28.2.13 (Lord AshcroftPolls.com)
[ii] YouGov poll 13.3.13